Newton teachers give up free time to be leaders

COVINGTON - This Thanksgiving, even the Teachers as Leaders got a break.

Being selected for the program, the teachers - one from each of Newton County's 20 schools - have to give up some of their regular school breaks and normal free time for training sessions.

"Of course, this was tough to give up, but we have to meet sometime," said Lori Frix, a teacher at Fairview Elementary School who was chosen for the program. "As teachers, it's hard to meet during regular school days."

The program started in July to prepare teachers who may become instructional coaches or future school administrators.

"This is probably one of the most exciting initiatives we've seen in my 20 years," said Ken Proctor, elementary curriculum director for the Newton County School System. "Teachers as Leaders started ... from a need that was apparent to building capacity within the school district. ... Additionally, it was created in order to disseminate critical information and professional learning to the staff members in each school."

To be in the program, interested teachers submitted an application in the spring, which included a recommendation from a school administrator.

"The applications were evaluated to determine those which best met the qualifications for the program," Proctor said. "The qualifications simply are that a principal nominate someone who has leadership potential and who has a good reputation and rapport with staff members. In addition, it needs to be someone who is willing to learn and who is not hesitant to make presentations to staff members."

He said how long the teachers will serve still is undetermined.

The Teachers as Leaders trained over the summer and will participate in several training sessions during the regular school year, including during times that are scheduled school breaks.

"Professional learning modules are created at the district level, and the modules are presented to the teacher leaders, who, in turn, present the modules to their respective staff members," Proctor said.

Modules include Working with Adult Learners, Differentiated Instruction and Standards-Based Instruction, among others.

"We are given a plethora of information during the training sessions," said Lynn House, a teacher at Veterans Memorial Middle School who is in the program. "The PowerPoint (presentation) is made available through a shared site. We are encouraged to add to and/or edit as long as the meat of the material remains intact."

In July, the teachers were presented with three modules, two of which were then redelivered in August and September.

In October, they also received three modules. The teachers will present each of those by January.

They will have another training day in February and redeliver the modules in February, March and April.

House said the hours it takes to attend these sessions, prepare for her own presentation and actually present varies by week.

"Many weeks have involved meetings, training, research and presentations, while others only require checking for updates and consistent communication," she said.

Each teacher leader sets up a time and day with the administration to redeliver the presentations.

"I usually redeliver at a faculty meeting once a month, and it is presented to all teaching staff," said Pamela Akin, a teacher at Livingston Elementary School. "On one occasion, I presented to each grade level at one of their planning meetings."

Akin said she likes being part of the program because she is now "in the know" about national, state and county mandates and programs.

"I want to do the best I can for my students. Knowledge is powerful, and it helps me to better prepare for my students," she said. "Ignorance is not bliss."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.